July 23, 2009 (by Eric L. Palmer) - The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter known as the F-35C will be rolled out next week. It is billed to offer the U.S. Navy a “day one” of the war combat aircraft.
Artist's impression of an F-35C right after take-off from an aircraft carrier.
With shaky and uncertain defense budgets being a given for the future, this could cause a bit of a dilemma on how to best support an F-35C strike package with off-board platforms.
First, the escort jammer that will fly off of the carrier deck is too slow and was delivered with yesterdays jammer system
. Relevant if you are going up against a second or third string air defense on par with Allied Force 1999
. Not so good if you are looking at the emerging threats in the Pacific Rim over the next 20 years.
Really, the F-35C will be long over the hill and far far down range before the EA-18G can be of any use. The EA-18G won’t have the range or useful jamming gear. And, if the EA-18G does some how get the next gen jammer, it will still be an escort jammer that will be too slow and too short on legs.
What to do? It may be time to call on a variety of 737 variants based on the P-8
and even possibly the Wedgetail
. Wedgetail because it proves the aircraft can fly with a really odd looking shape. Where the shape wouldn’t be to support airborne early warning but instead would be a quality stand-off jammer
that could blanket or focus along a very wide band of enemy radar threats at significant range.
This isn’t too far fetched given the future threats and the USAFs inability to come up with useful joint support. It may get bad enough where the U.S. Navy has to come up with their own wide-body large air-to-air refueling aircraft for dedicated carrier operations. An F-35C is going to need lots of refueling support. The aircraft can start a sortie carrying almost 10 tons of gas.
It is yet to be seen how the F-35C will prove itself. A U.S. Navy OPEVAL is a long way off. Starting now on what kind of tanking the U.S. Navy can depend on and what kind of real stand-off jamming they can come up with is a good idea. With unstable defense budgets looming, depending on other services for joint support of carrier operations may be a pretty weak plan. Just as important, the UCAS-N operating off of a carrier
is far from a done deal.
We are seeing huge old reliable paradigms at risk. With future defense budgets having lots of questions marks around them, expect to see a whole bunch of new unknowns appear when figuring out how to best use the F-35C against high end threats.